Thursday, March 10, 2011

From Treadmill to Truth: A True Story of a Transformed Mormon Missionary

By Bruce Levi

Have you ever gone to the gym and gotten on a treadmill? Maybe you even have one in your home. You’ve probably noticed that a treadmill takes you nowhere, right? After all that walking or running, you’re still right where you started, aren’t you? If you want to actually go somewhere, you will have to get off that treadmill. Well, I spent over a quarter of a century on a religious treadmill. I kept finding myself right where I had begun.

But, just a few weeks before my 27th birthday, I clearly saw that I needed to get of that treadmill. I prayed to Jesus Christ and asked Him to forgive me of sin and be my Savior. He did just that. And I felt an immediate sense of forgiveness and relief from guilt that I had never before known. I will never forget that day - the day I got off the treadmill.

This act that was born of faith, when I called on Jesus Christ for salvation, was a huge departure from everything I had been taught. In fact, it was heresy in my Church. I had been taught that calling upon Jesus for salvation was a false doctrine, because each person must earn salvation through participation in religious rituals such as water baptism and other special ceremonies, and by then keeping all the commandments of my Church.

You see, I was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as the Mormon Church or the LDS Church. In my family, our whole lives centered on the Church. We attended virtually all the weekly Church meetings starting when I was a young child. At age twelve I was ordained a Mormon Deacon in the “Aaronic” priesthood. I was even the president of my seminary class, a formal religious instruction program for Mormon youth. In the Mormon Boy Scout program, I attained the rank of Eagle Scout by age 14 and then earned the Duty to God Award, of which I was very proud.

My quest for self-perfection continued after graduation from high school when I began attending the Mormon Church’s Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah. At BYU, I was very active in the Church programs, in which held leadership positions. I was ordained an Elder in the higher-level “Melchizedek” Priesthood. I was asked by the President of the Mormon Church, whom I considered to be a true prophet of God, to go on a two-year mission to Germany. In preparation, I attended the secretive Mormon temple ceremony and began to seriously study Mormon teachings. This study led to some interesting, and disturbing, discoveries.

I learned that in its early days, the Mormon Church’s doctrine of God was more similar to Christianity’s Trinitarian doctrine than the more recent and perhaps current Mormon teaching that God was once a man, that man can become God, and that there are many Gods. I came upon these early doctrines of God in a book titled, Lectures On Faith, which I purchased at either the BYU bookstore, or a local Mormon bookstore in Provo. Lectures On Faith was published as part of the official 1835 edition of Mormon scripture titled Doctrine and Covenants, of which I have a photostatic copy. In case any reader doubt the important position and status that Lectures On Faith played in early Mormonism, one only need to know that it occupied pages 1 to 74 of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants and was specifically referred to in that volume’s preface, which was signed by Joseph Smith, Jr. himself, the founder of Mormonism. Lectures On Faith is no longer part of the LDS Church’s scripture, and no wonder.

Then, I found out that that Brigham Young, who led the Mormons to Utah in 1847, taught openly and plainly that Adam was actually God the Father who brought one of his wives, Eve, with him to the Garden of Eden to start the human race. I read Brigham’s own words in a copy of the then recently-published work titled, Journal of Discourses, which a fellow student who lived in my same dormitory had just purchased. This student, who had recently returned from his mission to Scandinavia, came to my room to show Brigham’s quote to my roommate, who had just returned from his mission to Germany.

Since I had been taught that Mormonism was a restoration of the one true church that Jesus Christ organized some 2000 years ago, it seemed strange to me that God would give such contradictory teachings about Himself. After all, the whole reason for the Mormon Church was to clear up such doctrinal discrepancies that had come to characterize Christianity. When I asked fellow Mormons to explain these changing doctrines of God, I was told to just ignore them since recent Church leaders had finally cleared this up. This made me search even more.

Perhaps the most significant thing I learned as a college freshman at BYU was about the Mormon doctrine of salvation. Like Christianity, Mormonism teaches that Jesus Christ paid for the sins of the world with an atoning sacrifice. However, the similarity ends there. Mormonism taught me that I must earn Christ’s atonement for salvation through religious ceremonies and keeping all the commandments of Mormonism. It was years later that I learned that the Bible, in sharp contrast, teaches that man cannot keep all the commandments, which were not given to bring salvation, and that Christ grants eternal salvation as a gift to those who place their trust in Him.

But even in Mormonism it is obvious that no one can keep all the commandments. So, one is to overcome this inability through repentance. However, in Mormonism, repentance (like almost every theological term) does not mean what it does in Christianity. In Mormonism the word repentance loses its meaning as “a change of mind,” wherein the sinner is to turn to God. It is, instead, a process in which the sixth, and final, step is: “Keep All The Commandments.” This definition and the steps of repentance can be seen in the official LDS publication, Gospel Principles, which is published by the LDS Church. In the 1997 edition, the section on repentance begins on page 122. Or, do a search on the LDS website:

As a student at the official LDS University I wanted very much to learn the doctrines of the Church. At that time, a book, The Miracle of Forgiveness, by LDS apostle Spencer W. Kimball, was very popular. This book still has much influence in the LDS Church as seen by the numerous times it is quoted in Gospel Principles. This book, was almost required reading, at least among serious students of LDS doctrine in 1973-74. Spencer Kimball, who eventually became the President of the LDS Church Kimball uses 368 pages (My edition is a third paperback printing from 1981.) to elucidate the LDS doctrine of repentance.

It is ironic that the book’s title describes forgiveness as a miracle. For after reading it, one can see that the only miracle involved in LDS forgiveness would be that anyone could even hope to qualify for forgiveness, let alone come close to it. Here are some examples from the book that demonstrate why I say this, and why I said above that Mormon salvation is a kind of spiritual treadmill. Kimball says that one must “leave nothing undone toward arriving at personal perfection” (page 124). And, “To try is weak. To “do the best I can” is not strong. We must always do better than we can. This is true in every walk of life” (page 165). And, “there must be no turning back. Any reversal, even in a small degree, is greatly to his detriment” (page 170). And, “It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could be weeks, it could be years, it could be centuries before…you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you” (page 325). And, “forgiveness was possible eventually, when the heavy price had been paid” (page 343). And, “that by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins” (page 346).

But, doubts and questions about such serious topics as salvation are not particularly welcome in the Mormon Church. Mormon leaders taught that “when they had spoken the thinking had been done.” Questioning is regarded as a sign of weakness. Besides, I had been taught that all the Churches of Christianity had fallen into total apostasy and had no priesthood authority to act in God’s name. Wasn’t the fact there are so many competing protestant denominations proof enough of this? So it did not matter that I wondered how I, or any Mormon for that matter, could ever do enough to please Christ and earn salvation, I was simply to obey. All around me were people who appeared to believe they could do all the requirements for salvation. This was the environment in which I was raised. It was all I knew. I had no other point of reference.

There is much pressure in Mormonism to conform and do what you are told. And, since I thought I needed to do many good works, obey Church leaders, and keep all the commandments to earn eternal life, I dutifully became a Mormon Missionary to Germany. It was in Germany, the land of Martin Luther, who asked questions, searched the Bible, and stood firm, that God planted the seed of the Gospel in me. In Germany I read the Bible from cover-to-cover and noticed many things that Mormonism could not explain.

One sunny afternoon while waiting for a bus in Darmstadt, I was approached by a soldier who was stationed at a nearby U.S. Army post. He asked me if I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. When I replied that I had been baptized, he explained that he meant a personal relationship like two friends have, and like he had with Jesus. Right then and there I knew in my heart that I did not have such a relationship with Jesus. It bothered me greatly that I, a missionary from the “only true church,” did not have a personal relationship with the One who was named as the very head of my Church. This realization troubled me for the remainder of my mission and for years after it.

After my mission, I returned to BYU to major in Business and minor in German language. While continuing to also study Mormonism, I saw that Mormonism had no reasonable explanation to substantiate its claims that many truths were removed from the Bible.

Since I had read this quote from Brigham Young (There is much additional evidence that proves Brigham taught this doctrine for over 20 years.) with my own eyes, I was shocked what I heard on my car radio in 1978. While driving on University Avenue in Provo, Utah, the newscaster reported that the President of the LDS Church officially condemned the Adam-is-God doctrine. I remember having to pull off the road because this news was extremely contradictory to what I knew Brigham had taught. This meant the unthinkable: either Brigham was not a faithful prophet of God, or that the prophet in 1978, Spencer Kimball, was not a faithful prophet. Which prophet was I to believe?

More importantly, I saw that the happiest Mormons where those who lived their lives as they saw fit and had their own opinions, despite what the Church leaders taught. Maybe they had noticed some of the same things I had. Twice at BYU I encountered Christians who were handing out information on the differences between Mormonism and Christianity. After much contemplation and study, I came to the inescapable conclusion that Mormonism’s way to eternal life by keeping all the many commandments was just impossible. I knew that there must be another way.

After graduation, I moved back to Boise, Idaho where I was employed in the sales force of a large international company. The next spring, I simply walked away from the Mormon religion. It had become clear to me that Mormonism was powerless and lifeless. Its emphasis on human effort and its lack of focus on the love of Christ were emptiness to me. Like many Mormons who come to this same realization, I concluded that organized religion was not the answer, so I did not attend church anywhere.

But God had other plans. That summer I met a Christian who invited me to attended a Sunday morning church service at a local protestant church. Out of curiosity I went. There I saw for the first time, a large group of people who were in church because they wanted to be, not because they had to be in order to get on God’s good side. I was amazed at their gratefulness to Christ for what He had done for them in purchasing and then giving them eternal life. The hymns they sang were all about Christ. They were just like the army man I had spoken with in Germany six years previous. They had a relationship with Jesus.

I liked what I saw there and kept attending. A few weeks later a former Mormon came to present his story of conversion to Christ and tell how Mormonism differed from Christianity. I attended his daylong seminar and learned of the many changes and cover-ups in Mormon doctrine and history. Some of these I had heard of before, but now I saw evidence carefully laid out with a respectful and caring attitude. I studied this information in detail along with the Christian doctrine of salvation by grace alone.

It became clear to me that the Bible plainly teaches that all people are sinners by nature. This confirmed my own observation about myself. I knew that I did unrighteous things without even trying. They seemed to just happen naturally, no matter how hard I tried to be perfect. It became clear that I, too, was really just a sinner by nature who lacked the capability to save myself in any way and in any part. Now, I was ready to receive the Bible’s teaching that Christ purchased my salvation and wanted me to acknowledge Him as my personal Savior. So it was in October of 1981 that I prayed to Christ and He became my Savior. I got off that religious treadmill and received the gift of eternal life.

Bruce Levi, his wife Sandi, and their six children have a ministry that educates Christians on the differences between Christianity and Mormonism and equips Christians to reach Mormons in a non-offensive, non-argumentative manner that allows for the Gospel to be given in a way the Mormon can understand. For 18 years they lived in Utah and are now members of Montana Avenue Baptist Church in Caldwell, Idaho. In western Idaho, as well as in the bordering State of Oregon, Mormonism has grown by 50% during the past decade! The vast majority of people who convert to Mormonism have a Christian background. Over 225,000 people per year (600 people per day) are leaving Christianity for Mormonism. The Levis are available to speak in your Church, Sunday School, Camp, or other meetings.